‘Welcome to the Salvation Army Family Store.’ Whenever there is someone walking in the Tuen Mun Family Store, Ka-man will greet them cordially. She has been serving in the store for a long time, and despite mild intellectual disability and speech impediment, everyone in the store thinks that she is a competent colleague with perfect working attitude. Customers find it so warm and welcoming when they are greeted by her. This year (2022), she was recognised by Vocational Training Council as one of the best employees of the year. Her colleagues, who have been supporting her and witnessing how she overcame her limitations and achieved growth, were all moved to see that her efforts paid off.

Overcoming the anxiety of greeting customers

8 years ago, Ka-man finished her training in a vocational training center of other organization and became a trainee of Tuen Mun Family Store. Joyce Ho, Marketing and Development Manager of The Army’s Social Services Department, remembered that in the job interview Ka-man was very shy because she was not good at expressing herself. Now Ka-man actively handles store duties and she always greets customers cordially; her cheerful “welcomes” enliven the atmosphere of the store. Ling, Assistant Shop Supervisor of the Family Store and a long-time colleague of Ka-man, said that whenever Ka-man takes leave, the store will become quieter, and some customers could even ask if she is on leave.

Regarding how Ka-man overcame her communication difficulties, Ling said that although Ka-man was too timid to answer customer inquiries at the beginning, she was encouraged and supported by other colleagues to communicate more with people. Ling assigned different job duties for Ka-man to try, hoping she could build up confidence in her own ability and find the way to bring her strengths into full play. ‘Her transformation relied on her own efforts. The encouragement of colleagues gave her courage to try, and by trying more she has found the store duties less intimidating.’ Nowadays, customer communication has become Ka-man’s strong point, ‘You can feel the happiness in her greetings.’

Every child is unique and gifted

Among all the Family Stores, Tuen Mun and Shatin stores are special stores ran by Social Services Department with approximately 20 disabled employees, including part-time store assistants of persons with autism, intellectual disability or history of mental illness and trainees. Trainees in the stores are referred by the Rehabilitation Services under Social Services of The Army or by other organizations, followed up by social workers. Trainees will receive training on store duties, and have the chance to become a part-time store assistant if their performance is good.

Joyce added that during the training period the Family Store staff will evaluate the performance of disabled employees, observe what they are good at and provide trainings accordingly. ‘We give a lot of thoughts on job arrangement. We do not want to mould them into one certain type, and there is no competition of who works better. We just hope that they can express their strengths in positions that suit them best.’ Store staff encourage disabled employees and provide them opportunities to try; Ka Man successfully overcome difficulties with her perseverance, and her improvement is well recognized. Joyce thinks that every child is very gifted, ‘we should appreciate them and provide them chances to shine.’

The outstanding performance of Ka-man is the proof of her abilities. Joyce pointed out that people with disabilities can perform just as well as those without, or even better, and she hope the training programme can increase social awareness on this. “It is not out of sympathy that we hire them; we want to show people that these trainees are capable.”

Not just a job but a way of gaining confidence

After these years, Ka Man has become an experienced teammate of the store. She is capable of doing most of the job duties, and she substitutes for other colleagues if they are not available. She also assists in the training of other new disabled employees. This year, Ka Man received a certificate of appreciation from Vocational Training Council in a Recognition Programme for Distinguished Disabled Employees for her distinguished performance. Ling, who has been in the workplace with Ka Man over the years, was moved to see Ka Man’s achievement being recognized. “I am glad we can help them and witness their growth over the years. Their achievements are the fruits of their efforts.”

Ka-man has transformed from a shy little girl to a Family Store assistant of her own. Joyce hoped that trainees can gain confidence from the programme, not just simply being an employee in the store. ‘They are very gifted, just that we might not see in the past. We want to see them to build the confidence that they deserve.’ Soon there will be full-time posts for people with disabilities available in Family Stores. “We hope that this can encourage other corporates to offer opportunities for their disabled employees to express their talents on jobs. This is our mission as a social enterprise.”